Prior to booking my flight to Montenegro, all I knew was that it would be hot and that Montenegrins drink rakija. I didn’t even know which places to visit in Montenegro (I actually ended up staying in Kotor for two months but that’s a different story), never mind what I had to see while I was there, and so I was set on finding a Montenegro tour that would allow me to see some of what Montenegro had to offer.
Luckily for me, on arriving at my hostel, Old Town Hostel Kotor, Danilo the manager told me that the hostel actually organises various tours for guests with a local tour company, 360 Monte, and that guests of Old Town Hostel Kotor actually receive a discount on all of 360 Monte’s Montenegro tours. Of course, I didn’t need telling twice, and so I signed up right away!
The Great Montenegro Tour with 360 Monte
The Bay of Kotor
Up bright at early (or should I say, disheveled and bleary eyed) for the 8:00AM start, I was relieved that the meeting point for the Great Montenegro Tour was at the office of 360 Monte, which was right next door to my hostel. I’d been a bit nervous to turn up alone, but everyone seemed really friendly and so I relaxed a little as we made our way to the minibus, chatting to a couple from Manchester – I swear us Northerners are everywhere!
Once on the bus our guide, Jelena from Serbia, introduced herself properly and proceeded to tell us all about the history of Montenegro as we began our journey up the famous Old Austro-Hungarian Road that dates back to 1884. Famous for its 25 serpentines and sheer drops, this road is one of the most famous hairpinned roads in the world, and the drive is not for the faint-hearted! Luckily, our driver didn’t kill us (always a plus), and we were able to enjoy the magnificent views over Boka Bay (the Bay of Kotor), which has been listed as one of the 25 most beautiful bays in the world.
At one point we stopped to take some photographs but unfortunately a larger bus packed full of tourists arrived at exactly the same time and so we were all clamouring to get that famous ‘Bay of Kotor shot.’ It wasn’t ideal, especially as our group was so small and so we usually wouldn’t have had this issue, but we all managed to take some decent photographs before piling back into our minibus for our next stop – breakfast in Njeguški.
Breakfast of Champions in Njeguški
Njeguški Pršut is the speciality of the most famous village in Montenegro, Njeguški. Pršut is dry-cured ham, served uncooked and very similar to Italian Proscuitto. Taking around a year to prepare, the ham is salted, pressed, smoked and hung out to dry in the fresh mountain air before it is ready to be served.
Before we were able to try it however, Jelena took us into the back room of the restaurant that produces it (which also happens to be the oldest restaurant in Montenegro) and explained the whole process to us, pointing at the huge joints of ham hanging from the ceiling. She then drew our attention to a large wooden barrel full of freshly distilled rakija (fruit brandy), telling us that rakija is basically medicine to Balkan people, and so we’d all better have a shot of it before breakfast to ensure that we felt healthy and strong to start our day!
After the rakija, it was time for breakfast. For just 2 EUR, we all got a sandwich on thick crusty bread with Njeguški pršut and goats’ cheese, as well as a drink of our choice. When we discovered that this applied to any drink, a couple of us decided to get bottles of beer which we could save for later – a decision which I definitely patted myself on the back for later that day!
Lovćen National Park
After breakfast it was time for the next leg of the journey on our Montenegro tour – a drive through the ‘Sea of Rocks’ towards the Lovćen peaks. Incredibly, right at the top of the second-highest peak is the final resting place of Montenegrin Prince-Bishop, poet and philosopher, Peter II Petrović Njegoš, which is (unsurprisingly) the highest mausoleum in the world!
After disembarking the bus and climbing all 461 steps to the top of the peak, we first admired the huge statue of Njegoš (all 29 tonnes of which had to be carried up the mountain!) and the ceiling, which is covered with 200,000 gold pieces that come together to produce one huge 18KG mosaic.
Next, we went down a small flight of stairs and into the mausoleum itself, before making our way to the stone ‘viewing circle’ outside. From here, you can see more than half of Montenegro, and on a clear day even Albania and Croatia are visible! I honestly could not get over the views from up here – it was honestly like something from a fairy tale.
A Boat Ride Down Crnojević River
Next stop was Crnojević River, where we enjoyed a relaxing boat ride. In true Balkan style, Jelena produced two bottles of rakija (one of which was 60% proof!) and a bottle of red wine, handing us all a plastic cup and instructing us to help ourselves. As we cruised down the river in our red wooden boat, I sipped my wine and dipped my toes in the water, enjoying the sun on my face. After a short while we stopped and jumped into the river to cool off – I can’t tell you how much that was needed after climbing all of those stairs in 30 degree heat earlier!
Lunch and a Very Insta-Worthy View
As we made our way back to shore, Jelena asked us what we would all prefer to eat for lunch – chicken or fish. For some unknown reason, I raised my hand for chicken and instantly regretted it. Why oh why would I not opt for fresh fish?!
After sulking for a minute when I arrived at the quaint, riverside restaurant and saw the plates of freshly grilled fish, I decided to make the most of my chicken schnitzel – I mean, life could be worse after all. Served with potatoes and salad, complete with a soup starter and chocolate crepes for dessert, 8 EUR certainly wasn’t a bad price to pay (and we would have paid a lot more had we gone to the restaurant independently of the tour).
As we allowed our lunch to settle, we all enjoyed a couple of beers before eventually dragging ourselves back to the bus and recommencing with our Montenegro tour. The bus actually drove us to look down on the very spot where we’d just been swimming (which happens to be one of the most photographed places in Montenegro!).
The Old Royal Capital of Cetinje
Although the current capital of Montenegro is Podgorica, this wasn’t always the case. The former capital of the country is a city named Cetinje, which was the next stop on our Great Montenegro Tour. Jelena walked with us through the centre of Cetinje, regaling us with lots more Montenegrin history and taking us to see the famous Monastery of Cetinje, King Nikola’s Palace, the Court Church at Ćipur and the former residence of former Prince-Bishop Peter II Petrović Njegoš.
Unfortunately I didn’t take any photographs in Cetinje because I was too busy playing with a friendly stray dog that had decided to join us on our walking tour. However, Jelena noticed how enthralled we all were with him and took us behind the church to see some excitable puppies which honestly made my day.
The next and final part of our day was supposed to be a trip to Budva to see Sveti Stefan, an exclusive resort on a private island. Frequented by A-List celebrities, anyone who is anyone in Montenegro can be found at Sveti Stefan. However, as we left Cetinje it was already starting to get dark, and Jelena said that although she would be happy to take us to go and see Sveti Stefan, it would probably be pitch black when we arrived, and would add another hour onto our journey.
Unanimously we all agreed that we weren’t that bothered about taking a dark picture of a fancy resort, and so we made our way back to Kotor’s Old Town almost 12 hours after leaving, exhausted but happy.
So, would I recommend one of 360 Monte’s Montenegro Tours?
ABSOLUTELY. With 360 Monte I was able to see more of Montenegro than I ever would have been able to see on my own. Not only was I able to visit some iconic sites and enjoy some of the most breathtaking views I’ve witnessed on my travels, but I also learnt a lot about Montenegrin history.
The mausoleum of Peter II Petrović Njegoš would have been impressive without a guide, sure, but it was made all the better by Jelena’s commentary about the Prince-Bishop’s life as a politician, philosopher and bishop.
Likewise, we could have walked around the streets of Cetinje by ourselves but thanks to Jelena’s guided tour, we were able to have a much more comprehensive understanding of Montenegro than we would have if we’d have gone alone.
I know that for many budget travellers, guided tours are not something that seems appealing, but if you do have the cash then I highly recommend signing up for a Montenegro tour with 360 Monte. Not only are you getting a great deal but you’re also contributing to the local economy, supporting local businesses and learning about Montenegro from the very people who live and work there. For these reasons, I believe that going on a tour with 360 Monte is not only a lot of fun, but also a very ethical way of exploring Montenegro.
The tour that I attended was called the ‘Great Montenegro Tour,’ but there are a variety of other different tours that 360 Monte offer. Tour prices for the Great Montenegro Tour are 44 EUR for guests at Old Town Hostel Kotor and 49 EUR for everybody else. Some additional money is needed for breakfast, lunch and national park fees. More information can be found on their website.
Have you ever been on a tour with 360 Monte? What did you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!